It began in Angeles City, Philippines with a brief encounter with a stranger who had the looks of mixed Asian and Caucasian facial features. He introduced himself as an “Amerasian” - a child born to a Filipino mother and a U.S. serviceman. The stranger gave me a little background about him - how he lived his life since he was abandoned by his father, his struggle to self-identity, racism, and discrimination in a very conservative Catholic country.
The conversation lingered in my head all the way to New York City, and my heart was compelled to share the young man’s story to the world. With my passion in photography, I immediately dived in the idea of exploring the power of imagery and use it as a tool to convey my message. But first I needed to learn more about the Amerasian issue surrounding the Philippines. With the abundance of written articles and blogs online, I landed in a New York Times OpEd piece - written by a Yale Law School student, Christopher M. Lapinig - an article that fed me with sufficient information and pushed me even further to take on a very important project.
There are about 50,000 (maybe more) Filipino Amerasians abandoned by their military fathers. Most of whom suffer stigma, racial discrimination, and bullied in their own society because of their “unique looks.” A high percentage of these ostracized citizens live in the margins of poverty and in squalor communities. Some have accepted their fate, while others are still hopeful in meeting their fathers - a chance that might be slim to none.
It was learning of the Public Law 97-359 (Amerasian Immigration Act) that exasperated me and became more eager to dedicate my passion in helping the Amerasian children. The law was signed in October 1982 which allowed abandoned Amerasian children born in Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea to enter the United States through a special immigration aid. The archipelago hosted two of the major air and naval bases outside the United States - Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base for more than 50 years. Though the Philippines and Japan were originally included in the Act's list of countries, there were deleted the last minute. To date, it remains a mystery why Congress excluded the Philippines from the Act which makes me believe that these children were unfairly discriminated.
It’s documented in the History of Photography that images have made a difference in the world. The works of photographers such as Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Walker Evans, Jack Delano are just a few examples. Their photographs were essentially employed as tools for social change and reform. It may be an ambitious approach but I hope my photographs will be framed as instruments in having the stranded Filipino Amerasians gain social and political recognition in the United States. Thus, my journey continues.
To the stranger I met in Angeles City, thank you for sharing your life story with me, and I hope I can return the favor by sharing your story and the rest of Amerasians’ stories to the world.